Field and laboratory work by a group of zoologists led by Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, has resulted in the discovery of a new species of blunt-headed vine snake from the Chocoan forests in northwestern Ecuador. This region is part of the 274,597 km2 Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena hotspot that lies west of the Andes. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.
Blunt-headed vine snakes live in an area comprising Mexico and Argentina, and are different from all other New World snakes in having a very thin body, disproportionately slender neck, big eyes, and a blunt head. They live in trees and hunt frogs and lizards at night. The new species described by Torres-Carvajal and his collaborators was named Imantodes chocoensis and increases the number of species in this group of snakes to seven.
Snakes collected as far back as 1994 and deposited in several Ecuadorian and American natural history museums were also examined. The authors were soon surprised with an interesting discovery. Some individuals from the Ecuadorian Chocó lacked a big scale on their face that is present in all other blunt-headed vine snakes from the New World. Other features, as well as DNA evidence, indicate that these Chocoan snakes actually belong to a new species. DNA data also suggest that its closest relative is a species that inhabits the Amazon on the other side of the Andes.
'One possible explanation for the disjunct distribution between the new species and its closest relative is that the uplift of the Andes fragmented an ancestral population into two, each of which evolved into a different species, one in the Chocó region and the other in the Amazon' said Dr Torres-Carvajal.
Torres-Carvajal O, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Quirola D, Smith EN, Almendáriz A (2012) A new species of blunt-headed vine snake (Colubridae, Imantodes) from the Chocó region of Ecuador. ZooKeys 244: 91. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.244.3950
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In the article on the discovery of dinosaurs (They’re back, Review, 6 June) you state: “In Sussex, a local doctor uncovered fragmentary remains of what appeared to be two more species of colossal extinct land reptiles.” You grossly underplay the contribution of Lewes-born Gideon Mantell, geologist and palaeontologist, author and diarist, friend to princes and international scholars as well as local doctor. Mantell not only discovered (aided by his wife) the first remains of the iguanodon in 1824 but named it – as it resembled the tooth of an iguana. This was the first known land dinosaur, Mary Anning having identified the first sea-living dinosaur.Mantell went on to put together more pieces of the jigsaw with extra fossil discoveries. In contrast to Richard Owen, whose models form the basis for the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, Mantell stated correctly that iguanodon would have walked on their back legs, using their forearms to fight or gather food. He did, however, attribute the thumb spike to a nose horn though later corrected this assumption. The Natural History Museum has a display on Gideon and his wife Mary’s contribution as well as the large “Mantell-piece” of Iguanodon fossils that he had on show in his museum in Brighton. He sold it, along with many more priceless items, to the British Museum in 1838. Gideon Mantell’s reputation deserves better than your throwaway remark. Debby MatthewsLewes, East Sussex Continue reading...
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